Quebec forest fires continue to rage out of control

August 10th, 2018


QUEBEC – The situation was still critical Friday in central Quebec as a dozen forest fires continued to rage out of control – forcing residents of two native reserves to flee.

Quebec’s forest fire protection agency, the Sopfeu, said 62 fires were burning across the province Friday morning and 14 were out of control. More than 29,000 hectares of forest have so far been destroyed.

The Abitibi region, in northern Quebec, and the Haute-Mauricie region, located north of Trois-Rivieres, are the two provincial hot spots.

The recent heat wave in Quebec has increased the risks of forest fires and lightning has also sparked fires.

As well, the forecast for hot and dry conditions for the next few days isn’t encouraging firefighters.

The Sopfeu also noted20 new fires flared up overnight Friday.

The fire protection agency has 14 water bombers, 50 helicopters and more than 800 firefighters battling the flames across the province.

It has requested reinforcements from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre and two water bombers from Manitoba have landed in Quebec. The state of Maine said Friday it is sending 21 firefighters to help battle the wildfires.

One of the biggest blazes in central Quebec forced the evacuation of more than 1,300 people from the Wemotaci First Nation reserve, located some 300 kilometres north of Trois-Rivieres.

The residents were taken by bus Wednesday night to nearby La Tuque and bunked down at the school or with friends, family or at the hotel.

"There’s room for everyone to sleep, that’s good news," said Transport Minister Julie Boulet speaking to reporters in La Tuque Thursday. "We’re here should other needs arise and we will support these people so their stay is the most comfortable possible, considering the circumstances."

The fire was still at the village’s boundaries Thursday and a thick cloud of smoke covered the region. "There’s smoke over an area of 100 kilometres by 100 kilometres," said Jacques Raymond, spokesman for civil security in the Mauricie region.

The provincial police said fire damage in the Wemotaci Atikamekw reserve was limited to a home and a shed. The evacuation order was still enforced and the road that leads to the village remained closed.

Authorities are also keeping their eyes on fires near the reserves of Obedjiwan, where about 70 residents were evacuated, and Manawan, as well as the village of Parent, all in central Quebec.

Late Thursday provincial police said a preventive evacuation of 300 people was taking place in Manawan, involving people with health or mobility problems and pregnant women.

They were bused to Joliette where they were to set up camp in a local arena.


Toronto police make first arrests after banks vandalized

August 10th, 2018

At least one person has been arrested in connection with anti-G20 graffiti spray-painted on Toronto banks overnight.

Vandals spray-painted slogans such as “Resist G20″³ and “Stop G20″³ on bank walls, windows and ATMs.

As many as six banks were targeted in the Spadina and Dundas and the Spadina and College areas. The suspect reportedly rode a bicycle between his targets around 3 a.m. Investigators hope to learn more by reviewing security footage.

At least one person has been charged with mischief, according to reports.

“It’s quite clear that the billion dollars that’s spent is not there to protect taxpayers, it’s there to protect Stephen Harper’s photo-op,” city councillor Adam Vaughan said Friday morning.

“It’s just wrong. It wasn’t just the banks that got tagged – it’s … small businesses that got tagged.”

Mr. Vaughan, whose ward will likely be seriously affected by security surrounding the world leaders’ summit, expressed frustration on Thursday that the federal government will not be compensating homeowners or businesses for property damage sustained during the G20.

“The Prime Minister’s office has got to revisit this policy now,” Mr. Vaughan said. “I don’t understand the federal government that won’t protect its own citizens.”

A Royal Bank branch in Ottawa was also firebombed last week. No one was injured; initial estimates suggested the vandals caused $300,000 damage. On an independent media website, the perpetrators warned they are also headed for the G20 in Toronto.

That incident is cause for even more concern, Mr. Vaughan said. Many of the buildings are extremely old and vulnerable to fire, and low-income residents live above shops in the area, he stressed.


Ottawa won’t pay for G20 damage: councillor

August 10th, 2018

The federal government says it will not pay for damage suffered by property owners as a result of protests against the G20 meeting next month, according to Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan.

In an email released by the councillor, a member of the Summits Management Office writes that damage caused by third parties, including vandalism, will not be compensated.

"These types of damages are insurable under normal insurance coverage," wrote Effie Triantafilopoulos, deputy director and special advisor G20 liaison.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," Mr. Vaughan told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. "They’re bringing this party to town. They know what accompanies this sort of event, and for them to walk away from small businesses after they spent $1-billion on themselves is an absolute disgrace, and Stephen Harper ought to have an answer for those small businesses."

He said city staff had been negotiating with the federal government on how costs would be covered when they learned of this development.

Leaders of the G20 countries will be meeting at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on June 26 and 27, protected by a fenced-in security perimeter in the downtown core. Mr. Vaughan has long argued that the event should have been held at Exhibition Place.

He said the city had tried to convince the federal government to post a bond in advance to cover the costs incurred during the event. He added that in the Entertainment District, businesses "can’t even get insurance for plate-glass windows because of the behaviour of club kids, so these people are in a more vulnerable position."

The summit’s website details what may and may not be covered by the government. Businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals living or working inside the security zone and who suffer financial loss as a result may be eligible for compensation. For those outside the zone, but who do business in it, certain claims may be eligible, the website states.

In addition to vandalism, the government will not compensate damages for personal injury, damages for emotional stress, "amounts that can be paid out by means of another instrument, such as statutory or regulatory scheme, Treasury Board policy, program, grant or contribution" along with private security measures "as security agencies will be providing the required security."

The estimated cost to police the G8, in Huntsville, and G20 summits is approaching $1-billion. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mayor David Miller said Ottawa is paying for the G20.

"Ottawa is covering the costs of the G20, period. The city is not on the hook for them, so it’s up to them what they deem to be a cost," he said. "Property damage is between the individual properties and Ottawa."

He said there is an agreement with the federal government that they will cover Toronto police overtime.


Firefighters facing “a real monster,” Que. official says

June 23rd, 2019

Firefighters continued to battle Monday major forest fires inching closer to the native reserve of Wemotaci in central Quebec as winds blew thick smoke hundreds of kilometres way to Montreal and Ottawa.

The province’s forest fire protection agency, the Sopfeu, said 47 forest fires were raging across the province at midday Monday and eight were considered out of control.

The overall situation has improved over the weekend, but firefighters are concerned about Wemotaci, one of the hottest spots of the province.

A fire near the reserve – which was evacuated last week – grew vigorously Sunday and firefighters were forced to retreat because the smoke was too dense. "It was infernal, we’re up against a real monster," Sopfeu spokesman Marcel Trudel told reporters in La Tuque, noting the flames were as high as 30 metres.

The Sopfeu said their teams were able to return to Wemotaci Monday morning to battle the flames surrounding the reserve. "The fire didn’t do any damage but some preventive lines didn’t hold up and we’ll have to do extra work in those places," Trudel said.

He noted the winds have shifted and died down, giving a hand to the firefighters. The Sopfeu is also hoping the light rain forecasted for the region will provide some relief.

The majority of the fires are burning near Wemotaci and La Tuque, about 300 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The Quebec provincial police asked Monday that cottage owners and people who fish and camp in the region evacuate.

"We don’t want people to wait until the last minute. We don’t know if we’ll be able to get everyone out by air if the situation becomes critical," said Surete du Quebec spokeswoman Eloise Cossette.

Some fires are also burning in the area of Parent, in the Mauricie, and in the Abitibi region.

Over the past week, firefighters have battled 118 fires in the province and managed to put out 66. With the help of teams from British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Maine and New Hampshire the Sopfeu currently has 1,300 firefighters working across Quebec.

The smoke from the fires has drifted hundreds of kilometres away, reaching Montreal, Quebec’s Eastern Townships and Ottawa Monday.

A layer of smoke enveloped the Montreal region Monday morning and Environment Canada issued a smoke warning for Laval, Vaudreuil, Soulanges Huntingdon, Richelieu Valley, Ste. Hyacinthe, Lachute, St. Jerome, Lanaudiere, Mauricie, Drummondville, Bois-Franc and the Eastern Townships.

The City of Montreal’s air quality monitoring stations indicated the worst readings were in Ste. Anne de Bellevue and areas of downtown, where readings were above 150. Fifty-one and above is considered bad air quality.

Smog especially affects asthmatic children and people with respiratory ailments or heart disease. It is, therefore, recommended that these individuals avoid intense physical activity outdoors until the smog warning is lifted.

In Ottawa, the fire department was kept busy responding to ‘multiple calls from across the city’ about the odour early Monday.

By Monday night, the winds are expected to change again to blow the smoke north and clear of the Montreal and Ottawa region.

With files from the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen

HangZhou Night Net

Cull suggested for Nova Scotia’s Sable Island

June 23rd, 2019

A federal report proposing a massive seal cull on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island has drawn the ire of environmentalists who say it is unjustifiable and would turn the famed island, known for its wild horses and isolated, windswept beaches, into an international embarrassment for Canada.

The report, prepared last year for the federal Fisheries Department, proposes the slaughter of an estimated 220,000 seals over a five-year period.

Obtained under access-to-information legislation and posted online by The Coast weekly newspaper in Halifax, the report lays out in grisly detail, potential plans for controlling the island’s grey seal population, which is estimated at 300,000.

One proposed plan is an “immunocontraceptive” vaccine program aimed at the female population of grey seals.

The other, and more attention-grabbing plan, is a cull that would kill 100,000 seals in the first year, and 30,000 in each of the following four years – the killing would take place during the winter months and involve shooters using rifles.

To avoid the animals being “spooked” by the sound of gun blasts, silencers are recommended to be used. But since silencers are illegal in Canada, the devices likely would have to be imported from the United States, where they are legal. That would, the report said, mean special permits would have to be obtained, under guidelines of Canada’s Firearms Act.

The report also recommends the killing of baby seals because without their mothers, they would be left to starve.

The report says the fishing industry blames the seal population for overconsuming fish stocks, for disturbing feeding and spawning patterns of fish, and for destroying fishing gear, among other things.

Mark Butler, the policy director for the Ecology Action Centre, a Halifax-based environmental advocacy group, said such a cull would have to be kept up for years to come to be successful, something he said simply isn’t warranted.

“I don’t think the fishing industry in justified going in there and (killing thousands of) seals when they haven’t cleaned up their own act,” Butler said.

Earlier this year, the Nova Scotia and federal governments said they would team to designate Sable Island as either a national park or a national wildlife area.

Butler said he’s dubious such a project would be undertaken in an area destined to be a national park.

“But one can never underestimate . . . there’s been some very foolish schemes,” he said.

He said that given the international opposition the seal hunt already faces, a massive cull on Sable Island would be a “gong show.”

Butler said some of the reasons species flourish is because their natural predators have been eliminated. He cited the fact that there are some sharks that hunt seals, and that sharks have been overfished.

HangZhou Night Net

Gulf oil spill threat widens, protests planned

June 23rd, 2019

VENICE, La. – Oil from BP’s out-of-control Gulf of Mexico oil spill could threaten the Mississippi and Alabama coasts this week, U.S. forecasters said on Monday, as public anger surged over the country’s worst environmental disaster.

U.S. government and BP officials are warning that the blown-out deepwater well feeding the catastrophic spill may not be shut off until August as the company begins preparations on a new but uncertain attempt to contain the leaking crude.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will meet with federal prosecutors and state attorneys general in New Orleans in Tuesday. It will be Holder’s first trip to survey the damage before what legal experts believe will be a criminal investigation into the disaster.

The London Stock Exchange and Wall Street were closed for holidays on Monday, but BP shares in Frankfurt sank 7 per cent to close at around 5.40 euros ($6.93 Cdn) on the news of the company’s weekend failure to halt the oil leak.

BP’s stock has lost nearly a quarter of its value since the oil spill started six weeks ago, wiping nearly 29 billion pounds ($44 billion Cdn) off BP’s market value, according to Reuters data.

The disaster, in its 42nd day on Monday, is already the largest oil spill in U.S. history and officials are treating it it as the country’s biggest environmental catastrophe.

Although Louisiana’s wetlands and fishing grounds have been the worst hit so far by the spill, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said moderate southerly and southwesterly winds this week may start moving oil closer to the Mississippi Delta.

"Model results indicate that oil may move north to threaten the barrier islands off Mississippi and Alabama later in the forecast period," NOAA said in its 72-hour prediction on the expected trajectory of the huge oil slick.

Mississippi and Alabama have escaped lightly so far, with only scattered tar balls and oil debris reaching its coasts.

But the NOAA forecast was a sober reminder that oil from the unchecked spill, broken up and carried by winds and ocean currents, could threaten a vast area of the U.S. Gulf Coast, including tourism mecca Florida, as well as Cuba and Mexico.

Following the failure this weekend of BP’s attempt to plug the spewing 1.6 km-deep well, public anger over the spill and how it occurred is growing, as tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents face a pollution impact on their livelihoods.

A group calling itself Seize BP, which has already staged anti-BP protests, said on Monday it would organize demonstrations in more than 50 U.S. cities from Thursday to Saturday to protest the damage from the leaking oil.

The group demands that BP’s assets be immediately seized and held in trust to pay compensation for the spill triggered by the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.


"The greatest environmental disaster with no end in sight! Eleven workers dead. Millions of gallons of oil gushing for months (and possibly years) to come. Jobs vanishing. Creatures dying. A pristine environment destroyed for generations. A mega-corporation that has lied and continues to lie, and a government that refuses to protect the people," Seize BP said in a statement.

The public anger and frustration over the spill poses a major domestic challenge for President Barack Obama, who has been forced to admit publicly that the U.S. government and military do not have the technology to plug the leaking well and must leave this to BP and its private industry partners.

Obama, who made his second visit to the Gulf disaster zone on Friday, is sending three of his top energy and environmental officials back there this week. He is trying to fend off criticism that his administration acted too slowly in its response to the spill, the worst in U.S. history.

The crisis could swell into a political liability for the Democratic president as his administration and party, bloodied by bruising health care and economic policy debates, head toward key mid-term congressional elections in November.

Louisiana’s commercial and recreational fishing industry already has been dealt a blow by the spill. Fishing boats bobbed idle on Monday at the Venice Marina in Louisiana, which would normally be a hive of activity during the long Memorial Day weekend.

"Just take a look around, it’s quiet," marina owner Bill Butler said as he sat wistfully looking at the idle boats.

As a health precaution, U.S. authorities have closed all fishing in 25 per cent of Gulf of Mexico U.S. federal waters.

The Gulf Coast is one of America’s richest ecosystems and a vital breeding ground for a $6.5 billion seafood industry.


BP executives say the company will try several immediate options to try to control the leak, including the planned deployment of a containment cap in the next few days, but the ultimate solution may only lie in the drilling of a relief well that is expected to be completed in August.

The drilling of two relief wells, which began in May, is an expensive but more reliable way to intercept and cap the leaking well.

The Gulf spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989 as the worst U.S. oil spill, with an estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels (1.9 million to 3 million liters) leaking per day.

BP is now preparing a containment cap to place on top of a lower marine riser package (LMRP), a piece of equipment that sits atop the failed well blowout preventer on the seabed.

Remote vehicles have begun cutting away pipes atop the blowout preventer to allow a tight fit with the cap, and will saw through the main riser pipe in "next day or two," a BP spokesman said on Monday.

The White House said the company would begin cutting a pipe that rises out of the so-called LMRP on Monday or Tuesday.

If the containment operation works – and BP expects to know later this week – then at least some of the leaking oil could be piped to the surface.

HangZhou Night Net

Harper regrets deaths in Israeli attack on aid convoy

June 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Monday regretting the deaths and injuries that occurred when Israel used military force against a flotilla of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, but said more information is needed to shed light on what happened.

The statement was issued by his office shortly before Harper hosted a meeting in his office with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Canada deeply regrets the loss of life and the injuries suffered," Harper’s office said. "We are currently looking for more information in order to shed light on what exactly happened."

Prior to meeting Harper, Netanyahu gave his "full backing" to Israel’s military forces after Israeli navy commandos stormed the vessels in international waters, leaving as many as 19 people dead and others injured.

"The prime minister . . . reiterated his full backing for the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and inquired about the well being of the wounded," his office told AFP in Ottawa.

The incident prompted a wave of international condemnation, as Israel said it was forced to board the ships to uphold its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said the United States "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

Netanyahu was scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, but reports indicated the visit had been cancelled.

At the United Nations, the Security Council will meet Monday afternoon for an emergency session to discuss the attack on the flotilla, Security Council diplomats told Reuters.

They said no time had yet been set for the meeting and gave no further details.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned Israel’s use of military force as "disproportionate."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights joined calls for an "immediate and credible" inquiry into the interception and urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"We need to establish exactly what happened. However, nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation, which reportedly took place in international waters," Pillay said in a statement.

"I unequivocally condemn what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza, who have now been enduring a blockade for more than three years."

According to Israel’s Channel 10 television, 19 passengers were killed when Israeli naval forces stormed the ships, although the army gave a toll of 10.

HangZhou Night Net

Canada’s economy grows faster than expected

June 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Canada’s economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the first quarter of this year, led by consumer spending, increasing the possibility of an interest rate hike Tuesday by the country’s central bank.

Gross domestic product rose at an annualized pace of 6.1 per cent between January and March, the biggest jump since the last quarter of 1999, Statistics Canada reported Monday. Growth in the fourth quarter of last year was revised to 4.9 per cent from five per cent.

Most economists had expected GDP growth of 5.8 per cent in the first three months of 2010.

"Residential investment increased for a fourth consecutive quarter, as did consumer spending on goods and services," Statistics Canada said. "Export and import volumes both rose for a third consecutive quarter, with growth in imports outpacing growth in exports in the first quarter."

This marks the third straight quarter of economic growth in Canada, following three consecutive quarters of contraction.

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada separately reported that March economic growth was 0.6 per cent, after a 0.3 per cent advance in the previous month.

"While there are some questions on the sustainability of the rebound, there is simply no question that the early stages of Canada’s recovery exceeded even the most optimistic expectations," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Monday’s GDP numbers came one day before the Bank of Canada meets to decide whether to begin increasing interest rates.

Many economists expect the central bank on Tuesday will raise rates for the first time since lowering them to a record-low 0.25 per cent in April 2009 in an effort to fight off the worldwide recession. The consensus is for a 25-basis-point rise to 0.50 per cent.

"While it might initially appear unseemly for the bank to hike into a severe stock market correction, it would arguably be even more frightening to the market if a peripheral country like Canada was worried enough to defer rate hiking despite such compelling domestic arguments," said TD Securities’ Eric Lascelles. "In the event that conditions deteriorate further, the bank can always pause later in its tightening cycle, with minimum damage done."

Statistics Canada said consumer spending on goods and services rose 1.1 per cent in the first quarter, compared to a one per cent gain in the previous quarter.

"Household spending on semi-durable goods advanced, particularly for clothing, footwear, and accessories," the report said. "Expenditure on new motor vehicles grew, but at a much slower pace than in the previous three quarters."

Residential investment advanced 5.4 per cent, the fourth monthly increase in a row, while new housing construction jumped 11 per cent and renovation activity was up 6.3 per cent.

Exports were up 2.9 per cent, the third consecutive quarterly gain following five quarters of decline, the federal agency said, led by industrial goods and materials and auto products. Imports rose 3.4 per cent, again lifted by industrial goods and materials and auto products -as well as machinery and equipment.

HangZhou Night Net

Francophones may be lying about English abilities on census

May 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Thousands of francophones across Canada are believed to have lied about their ability to speak English in a seemingly co-ordinated attempt to manipulate the 2006 Census in order to guarantee federal funding of programs for French speakers.

Statistics Canada has taken the unusual step of posting a warning on its website to caution users that the data on bilingualism rates for francophones outside Quebec may not be reliable. The suspected cause is an anonymous French-language e-mail that circulated widely across Canada prior to the census encouraging francophones to say they could not speak English even if they could. The e-mail went on to say that this would ensure that the federal government would not cut services to francophones.

The resulting statistics showed for the first time an inexplicable decrease in the number of francophones outside Quebec who said they could speak English, reversing a long trend of increasing rates of bilingualism for francophones outside Quebec.

The number of bilingual francophones in Ontario, for example, has been on the rise by between one and three per cent in every census since 1991. However, in 2006 the number fell to 88.4 per cent from 89.4 per cent in 2001 – an unexpected drop of one percentage point.

Jean Pierre Corbeil, a chief specialist in the language statistics section, said they have studied the trend reversal and the e-mail appears to be the only factor that may have produced this aberration to the trend.

“How can you explain people living in a minority situation, even in really strong minority situations, that they would become less bilingual? This is almost impossible,” said Corbeil.

Even if the actual number of bilingual francophones had risen by only one per cent, confirming the long-standing trend, the number of Franco-Ontarians who may have lied in the census would be about 10,000.

It wasn’t just Ontario bucking the trend. Fewer francophones said they could speak English in 2006 in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The percentage of francophones outside Quebec who said they could speak English dropped 2.5 percentage points to 83.6 in 2006. The rate of bilingualism for francophones also dropped in Quebec.

The Statistics Act says anyone who lies when participating in a Statistics Canada survey is liable for a $500 fine, but Marc Hamel, manager of the 2011 census, said efforts are never made to track the liars down.

“We rely on Canadians to provide accurate information, but we have no means of verifying,” said Hamel.

Hamel said when his organization heard about the e-mail in 2006, Statistics Canada officials made public statements reminding people to answer the census truthfully. He said the source of the e-mail was never investigated.

Nelson Wiseman, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said francophones who may have lied about their English skills in order to protect government funding are misguided.

He said he has studied francophone minorities, particularly in Manitoba, and says government support for francophone culture has not had an appreciable impact on the sustainability of the French language there. He said a language’s survival is mostly affected by changes in society such as intermarriage, urbanization, developments in communications and transportation and the effects of mass media such as television that expose otherwise “insular” francophone communities to other cultures and languages.

This is not the first time a concerted effort has affected official government statistics. For example, in the early 1990s, Corbeil said, a media organization led a campaign to convince Canadians to declare their ethnic origin as Canadian rather than Polish-Canadian or German-Canadian. Corbeil said the campaign was so successful that researchers stopped using data on ethnic origin because it became too unreliable.

The unreliability of data concerning the number of bilingual francophones in Ontario comes on the heels of a controversial decision last year by Ottawa-based provincial politician Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario’s minister responsible for francophone affairs, to change the provincial definition. Previously, a francophone was someone whose mother tongue was French. Now, it can be anyone whose mother tongue is neither English nor French, but who at least understands French. Statistics Canada says this will artificially increase the number of French speakers in the province, likely by about 50,000, and include some people who may not even be able to speak French.

Ontario has the largest population of francophones outside Quebec – 500,000 – but they comprise less than five per cent of all Ontarians and the number has been steadily declining for many years. Just over half of them say French is the language they use at home.

Ottawa Citizen

HangZhou Night Net

Canadian commander in Afghanistan fired for alleged relationship

May 23rd, 2019

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, was sacked Saturday for alleged conduct unbecoming an officer.

The decision by Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, who commands all Canadian troops overseas, was made following allegations made earlier in the day, that Menard had had an inappropriate intimate relationship with someone in Task Force Kandahar. This had “caused Commander CEFCOM to lose confidence in Brig.-Gen Menard’s capacity to command,” officials said in a statement that was released just before dawn on Sunday in Kandahar.

An investigation is being conducted into the allegations and Menard, who was to command the biggest NATO campaign of the war in Kandahar in the next few weeks, is to return to Canada immediately, a military spokesman at Kandahar Airfield said.

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and civilian employees, including journalists embedded alongside them, must follow very strict rules governing behaviour with each other. No intimate personal relationships are allowed in theatre, including those involving married couples deployed at the same time.

“Sexual activity or any other form of intimate contact in any context with another individual is prohibited anywhere in the Joint Task Force Afghanistan Area of Operations,” according to theatre standing orders governing personal relationships.

Brig.-Gen Jon Vance, who preceded Menard as commander in Afghanistan, is being rushed to Kandahar to take over for Menard. Vance will command the Canadian task force again until September when Menard’s nine-month tour had been scheduled to end. Vance is to be replaced by Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, who was also to have replaced Menard.

Task Force Kandahar will be commanded for the next few days by Col. Simon Hetherington, the current deputy commander of Canada’s 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan.

“As soon as Gen. Lessard became aware of the allegations on May 29, he made the assessment and the decision,” Hetherington said in confirming that Menard had been relieved of command at 2:20 p.m. ET.

“I am not happy to bring you this news,” Hetherington told a small gathering of reporters at 4:30 a.m. Kandahar time.

“It is what it is.”

“I can’t discuss any details of anything that is under investigation. Nor can I go into information on the identity of the alleged other person . . .

“The allegations against Gen. Menard are just that, allegations against Gen. Menard.”

Menard joined the Royal 22nd Regiment as an infantry officer in 1984. Being only 42 years old and already a flag officer, he was considered one of the army’s top young commanders.

Only last Tuesday, Menard pleaded guilty at a court martial in Gatineau, Que., to negligently discharging his rifle. That incident, which took place in March, involved Menard inadvertently firing his rifle as he was about to board a U.S. army helicopter in Kandahar with Canada’s top soldier, Gen. Walt Natynczyk.

Menard was fined $3,500 for the negligent discharge and had only returned to Kandahar on Thursday evening after three weeks of leave in Canada.

“This will be very interesting weeks and months. We are looking forward to it,” Menard said when encountered in a cafeteria hours after he returning here from Canada. The general was referring to a major campaign against the Taliban that he was expected to lead this summer that many believe is the most critical of the eight-year war against the Taliban.

Soldiers waking up to the news in Kandahar on Sunday morning expressed shock and disbelief at the allegations against Menard, but declined to discuss their thoughts on the record.

Asked whether it might effect the military’s standing among the public, Hetherington said: “I don’t see it as a mark against the Canadian military, at all.”

Menard’s emergency replacement, Vance, left Afghanistan on Nov. 25 after a nine-month tour in which the Canadian task force began, for the first time, to live among the Afghan population in small communities to the southwest of Kandahar City. It was a counter-insurgency tactic that was later applauded by U.S army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, who personally visited Vance three times to discuss ways the program could be implemented across Afghanistan.

“It is an administrative and logistics matter to get Gen. Vance here,” Hetherington said. “Gen. Vance is likely to arrive here in five to seven days; call it a week . . .

“It can be assumed that he was selected because of his recent Afghan experience. His reputation with the allies is sound. He is a proven, professional officer.”

HangZhou Night Net

Hot, dry weather keeps fires raging in Quebec

May 23rd, 2019

MONTREAL – The forest fires that have forced 2,500 from their homes continued to rage through Quebec Sunday, bolstered by wind, sun and dry conditions.

None of the nearby villages in the north and central regions of the province are at risk, said Marcel Trudel, a spokesman with Sopfeu, Quebec’s forest fire protection agency.

The majority of fires are burning near La Tuque, Que., about 300 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Residents have complained of heavy smoke turning the skies yellow and the sun red and ash floating down onto their city, but Trudel said there was no cause for alarm.

The wind is starting to carry smoke and ash toward the Quebec-Montreal corridor, alarming residents.

But Trudel repeated his call not to worry, and asked residents to stop calling Sopfeu officials because they’re jamming emergency lines.

As of Sunday afternoon, 52 fires ranging in size from one to 40,000 hectares were burning in the province, bringing to 128 the number of fires Sopfeu has fought in the last week. So far, 90,000 hectares have been hit.

“We put some out, and new ones start all the time,” Trudel said. “That’s how it works.”

Of the 52 fires, eight are burning out of control, which is down from nine on Saturday but only because two of the major fires have combined to form one.

“It’s normal that we have fires out of control,” Trudel said. “That’s nature. If nature helps, it would get better.”

Rain is forecast for Monday night.

Thick smoke and dangerous conditions have forced the evacuation of four communities, three of them native reserves.

Only a few residents have been able to return.

More than 1,200 firefighters from Quebec, New Brunswick, New Hampshire and Maine are fighting the fires, a number Trudel said was sufficient for the task.

So far this year, 345 fires mostly started by lightning strikes and stoked by an unusually dry April and May, have been reported in Quebec, far above the 10-year average of 216 normally seen by this time, said Melanie Morin of Sopfeu.

It remains to be seen whether this year will surpass 2007, the most prolific of the last decade, when 892 fires burned through 278,000 hectares of forest.

Montreal Gazette

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Man dead after being struck, dragged

May 23rd, 2019

The man, in his early 40s, was jaywalking across 118th Avenue at 50th Street around 11:20 p.m. Saturday when a Dodge Dakota hit him, Staff Sgt. Bill Kerr said.

The Dakota driver stopped, but the pedestrian’s clothing caught underneath a Ford pickup truck that pulled around the Dakota to pass the scene of the collision.

The pedestrian was dragged almost 30 blocks by the Ford before another motorist alerted the driver at 120th Avenue and 76th Street that someone was trapped under his vehicle.

The Ford driver was arrested and remains in custody while police conduct an impaired driving investigation, Kerr said. The pedestrian was alive when firefighters pulled him from under the pickup and he was taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, but he later died from his injuries.

The man’s name has not been released.

Ken Stus watched firefighters and paramedics give the man CPR and treat him for head wounds from his home near the spot where the truck finally stopped.

The driver should have realized what had happened, Stus said.

"That’s a long ways away," Stus said. "How the hell did that guy not know he hit someone?"

Neighbour Frank Bagi said he saw fire trucks, police cars and ambulances pull up outside his home. He looked outside after he heard yelling and sirens.

"A lot of people are shook up," Bagi said. "It’s disturbing and really tragic."

This is Edmonton’s 15th traffic fatality of the year and the fifth involving a pedestrian.

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Man charged in Winnipeg shootings has deadly history

May 23rd, 2019

WINNIPEG – A young man charged in connection with two tragic shootings in Winnipeg this week – shootings that left one teenager dead and two young girls injured – was also involved in the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy in February 2008.

The newly revealed information offers a glimpse into the past of the 19-year-old gang member who is among those at the centre of shootings that have shaken the city and its West End neighbourhood this past week.

At the time of the earlier shooting, the then-17-year-old had broken into a garage with a 13-year-old named Cody Shuya.

After the two fought over a loaded pellet gun left there, the gun fired and shot Shuya’s eye, fatally damaging his brain.

The older teen pleaded guilty in 2008 to careless use of a firearm.

Now 19, the man is not being identified because the Youth Criminal Justice Act forbids identifying a person when their criminal record as a youth is reported.

He’s charged in connection with the aftermath of a shooting this week that killed a 16-year-old boy and a shooting that hurt the other children. Police say the two incidents are related.

On Tuesday afternoon, two gunmen firing at least 15 bullets hit Kyle Earl, 16, and Byron Cook, 13, as they sat on a porch in the West End.

Earl died and Cook was injured.

The 19-year-old, who was apparently nearby, allegedly ran on foot after Earl’s two killers – who have yet to be arrested -and fired several shots that struck two vehicles.

The vehicles were apparently not involved in the shooting and no occupants were injured, police said.

The 19-year-old is now charged with attempted murder for firing at the vehicles, say police.

A little more than 24 hours later, on Wednesday evening, three shots were fired into the front window of the same neighbourhood.

A 10-year-old girl was hit in the leg and an eight-year-old girl was grazed in the head by flying debris. Police say the girls were not the intended targets. The 19-year-old is now charged with attempted murder in that incident.

"Thank God these kids weren’t killed. That could easily have happened," said Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill

At the time of the two shootings this week, the 19-year-old man was out on bail for a previous break-and-enter. He’s also been convicted several times for breaching his sentence in relation to Shuya’s death and was under a court-ordered weapons ban.

Police have arrested a 14-year-old boy who is alleged to have been with the 19-year-old during Wednesday’s shooting.

The tall, angular 19-year-old appeared briefly in court Friday. He is connected to West End gangs and has posted online messages praising gang life.

Also Friday, Manitoba’s Opposition Conservatives said the governing NDP needs to make good on a promise to fund 130 new police officers in light of the deadly week of gun violence on the streets of Winnipeg.

The NDP promised during the 2007 provincial election campaign to increase the number of police officers in Manitoba by 100, including 50 in Winnipeg. A couple of years ago, the federal government sent Manitoba a $14.4-million cheque to add 15 city officers and the same number outside of Winnipeg.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said so far, the government has delivered only 64 new officers – 66 less than promised.

"We’re calling on the NDP to move forward and keep their promise to hire the 130 additional officers in order to restore a sense of safety in our communities," McFadyen told reporters Friday.

"Broken promises aren’t keeping our streets safe," he said. "We need those new officers now."

Premier Greg Selinger defended his government’s record, saying the province is funding an additional 13 city officers this year plus the operating costs of a new police helicopter, which is expected to take to the sky several months from now. As well, it has announced funding for 30 police cadets, who will free regular officers from some of their more mundane tasks.

– with files from Larry Kusch, Winnipeg Free Press

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